T HE Bible, as you already know, is composed of two parts, called the Old and the New Testaments. Both Jews and Christians consider that the first part of this book is sacred, because it contains God's teachings as he revealed, or made them known, to man. They do not, however, agree about the second part, which is considered sacred only by Christians.
The Old Testament contains, besides God's teachings, a history of the Jews, which is so interesting and important that educated people of all countries and religions are expected to know all about it. It is this history which you are going to hear, but, of course, if you want it complete, you must read it in the Bible itself.
The very first book of the Bible is called Genesis, a word meaning "origin," because it tells us about the beginning, or origin, of the world. We are told that in the beginning there was neither land nor water, nor any living things, and that darkness rested over all.
This early stage of affairs, when the elements of all things were mixed up together, has been called Chaos (confusion); and we are told that God, the Almighty, who had no beginning or end, created, or made, the whole world out of Chaos.
The story is told very briefly indeed, and all the periods of creation are called days. Of course we now know that by days the writer of the book of Genesis did not mean twenty-four hours, as we do. The word "days" was used for an indefinite space of time; and, just as God is far more powerful than we can imagine, so his days are far longer than ours.
God's spirit moved over Chaos, and during the first day he said: "Let there be light." At these words the darkness which rested over all things vanished, and light first appeared. This light shone through the thick vapors which then surrounded the earth.
During the second day, or period, the vapors parted, and now for the first time the blue sky could mirror itself in the blue waters which covered the face of the earth. As the clouds in the sky could rain down water, the Bible says that on the second day God "divided the waters which were under the firmament [or sky] from the waters which were above the firmament."
During the third day, or period, another great change took place; for the crust of the earth, shaken by earthquakes, formed great bumps and hollows. Thus were formed mountains and valleys; and the waters, which had covered all the face of the earth, now flowed into the deep basins, where they formed lakes, seas, and oceans.
As soon as dry land appeared, God said that the earth should bring forth grass, trees, and plants of all kinds; and each one was to have seeds, so that new plants would replace the old as soon as they died. The earth had been bare and ugly when it first rose up out of the waters; but it was now covered with verdure, and became beautiful as it is to-day.
On the fourth day, God allowed the lights in the sky to be seen; and the sun, moon, and stars began to serve, as they do now, to mark the days and the nights, the seasons and the years. Darkness and light were thus clearly divided, and we are told that "God saw that it was good."
During the fifth day, or period, when the rays of the sun had strengthened the trees and plants, God created the birds and fishes, and bade them multiply and fly through the air, and fill all the waters in the seas. It is in obedience to this command that the birds and fishes lay eggs and hatch their young.
The sixth day, or period, was spent in the creation of the higher animals, and lastly of man. Now the Bible tells us that man was formed out of earth, but that he was different from all the beings which had already been created, because he was like God.
This first man bore the name of Adam. Although his body was made of dust, his life was breathed into him by God, who brought all the animals to him that he might name them, and told him that he should be master over them all.
God had labored for six whole days, or periods, and from Chaos had brought forth the world and all the living creatures in it. He gazed upon his work, "saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." The labor was done, so, on the seventh day, God "rested from all his work."
It is partly because God rested on the seventh day, after laboring six days, that we work for six days of the week, and rest on the seventh; and each Sunday is thus an anniversary of God's day of rest.